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“Eat the Rich” Now Makes Sense

November 27th, 2019 by dk

Hang out with some French anarchists for a few days and you’re bound to see class warfare a little bit differently. You can find outrage at Prime Minister Francois Macron on any street corner in France, or you can wait for their anger to literally parade past you on any given Saturday. It’s going to get worse.

Macron has pushed banker-friendly “reforms” since his election in 2017, made necessary because he repealed France’s onerous wealth tax, soon after taking office. Public subsidies for education, housing, food, transportation, and heating are all being scoured in search of undiscovered “efficiencies.”

The French see the proposed changes as scurrilous imitations of American policies, but they don’t hate Americans. They hate the rich instead, and to better effect. The French people consider their national identity to be at stake, and they’d rather not lose it. A nationwide strike is planned for December 5. Christmas in Paris will not go as planned.

The conversations have been very clear. “Eat the rich.” Nothing less than despising the wealthy will keep society stable. I’ve heard this thinking many times before, but this is the first time I’ve found myself steeped in it. There’s a logic that emerges only when the observer is submerged.

The wealthy are vastly outnumbered. They give a portion of their wealth back. In return, the people agree not to storm the ramparts. In between, the government redistributes some of the wealth to keep all sides satisfied. But the economic equation doesn’t quite capture all the benefits received by the people. Joie de vivre is more than that.

American policymakers have long insisted that ambition fuels economic growth, but I haven’t heard anyone suggest that government should slow those ambitious urges for both the individual and the greater good. If we all strove to be upper middle class, but not more than that, how would that reshape our society?

Dramatically. The highpoint of the American Dream was accompanied by a 90 percent tax rate at the top. We used that money to build a nationwide highway system, affordable housing for returning veterans, and higher education opportunities for all comers.

We still had rich people around us. So does France. We considered them to be different from us. We didn’t imitate them. We didn’t pretend to be them. We didn’t envy them. We worked hard to be part of a stable middle class and then we slowed down. We took longer lunches, nicer vacations, and earlier retirements. We were satisfied.

There’s more ambition in America today than there was 50 years ago. But there’s also more drug addiction, family trauma, homelessness, obesity, and depression. For every additional billionaire produced, how much more desperation is also produced? Was that trade-off worth it?

Equality is central to the modern French identity, because they know the soil beneath them was tilled by Medieval serfs. They endured ostentation until they couldn’t. Violent rebellion ensued. Modern America was built on genocide. Modern France was built on regicide.

When the French encounter something impossibly rich, they hear the advice of their rebellious ancestors: Eat it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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